Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Importance of Site Visits

There are few planners who would argue against the need to conduct site visits (also known as site inspections) of venues that they are expecting to use, but I have worked with a number of clients who have not seen the value in them. There are certainly good reasons (from their perspective) to not conduct site visits or inspections but I believe the benefits outweigh the drawbacks by a huge margin.

Time and cost are usually the main objections to conducting site visits. The time excuse – and in my mind, that’s all it is – falls apart when you lose precious time later in the planning process dealing with issues that could have been addressed and resolved during the site visit. Managing costs is a bit trickier but the impact of cost can be reduced with smart planning. Now, I did mention some benefits… so what are they?

First and foremost, I am able to look at a property with the specific needs of my client in mind. Since I am physically on site for the inspection, I can look at the areas that my client will be using, I can see every angle of guest rooms, dining areas, event space, and access and proximity to off site options for dining and entertainment. A site inspection should include every aspect of the facility that will be used by your group – and any area that they might use… How well maintained is the property? Does a particular room really work for my group or is there an issue with the space that doesn’t appear in the marketing brochures?

Secondly, I am able to get a “feel” for how the venue (usually a hotel in this case) treats their guests. I will walk through the public areas and, as much as possible, observe the staff interacting with guests and event participants. How they treat others when they don’t know I’m watching can give me vital clues that will help me determine how they will treat my group when were in-house for our event. This is an important area for me – I can’t look good to my client unless the venue helps me look good. On occasion, observations about how a property reacts to guest complaints or requests has resulted in elimination of that property from consideration for my group’s business. It can also “cinch the deal” if I am considering two properties that are otherwise very close on paper.

Getting to know the “feel” of a property also allows me to put myself in the shoes of my attendees, so I can know what their experience might be like while they are there for the event. This is critical because, as every planner can tell you, not every property is right for every group. Different groups look for different things – one group may want easy access to a golf course, while another is more interested in the bar or restaurant setup. What is important to your group is the key here and, unless you can go in person to inspect the site, you are relying on someone else’s perception – and they won’t know your group (or your group’s preferences) as well as you do…

Now, I will grant that much of this information can be gathered online, but remember that any images taken from the venue’s web site will be the ones that place the venue in the best light. This is not a bad thing – but it cannot replace an in person evaluation of the venue. The only time I am comfortable skipping a site inspection is if (1) it is a meeting that I have done frequently AND (2) if I am using a property that I am extremely familiar with. Apart from those few cases, I always recommend to my clients that we conduct site visits.

- Karl Baur, CMPRDL enterprises